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UL football fans greet the team during Cajun Walk before the Nicholls State game at Cajun Field on Saturday.

UL's coaching staff will have plenty to review in their film study after Saturday's 27-24 home win over Nicholls.

But one thing coach Billy Napier didn't need to investigate further before commenting strongly on was his feelings on the crowd of 25,417 at Cajun Field.

"I want to talk about how appreciative we are of that crowd that showed up tonight," Napier said. "To start the season in front of that group — 25,000 people. We've been working to create something like that. I'm thankful for our students, I'm thankful for our fans, the alumni  and all the people from Acadiana that showed up. It was a first-class venue out there tonight and certainly they affected the game."

Napier said the large number of student support was especially noticeable for the team when they arrived at the field.

"It just gives the players a sense of pride that they are working hard and they are representing the community the right way," Napier said. "This is a team the community can be proud of. I know that there's a lot of things that maybe happened out there tonight. We can do better and coach better, but I don't want to discount what a special environment that was out there tonight.

"To see our students. When we pulled up from Cajun Walk and came around the corner there and to see the student tailgating just slammed. That's unprecedented since I've been here."

Welcome new faces

Transfer wide receivers Michael Jefferson and John Stephens made the trip to the Austin, Texas for the season opener, but you wouldn’t have known it by the statistical breakdown.

Jefferson technically did get one target without a reception, however, and Stephens wasn’t credited with a target in the 38-18 loss to the Longhorns.

On Saturday in UL’s home opener, quarterback Levi Lewis didn’t waste much time getting the Alabama State transfer Jefferson and the TCU transfer Stephens more comfortable.

In the Cajuns’ first drive, Jefferson hauled in completions of 28 and 10 yards to set up the 14-yard TD strike to Stephens.

"That was the game plan to get me and John a little bit more involved this week, so we were expecting it," Jefferson said. 

Then on the Cajuns’ second touchdown drive, Jefferson finished it off with a 46-yard touchdown grab for a 17-7 lead with 5:54 left until halftime.

"It's a pump route," Napier said of Jefferson's touchdown. "It's really a corner pump route. He's in a short split, runs a play-action corner and then runs out of it up until the top of the numbers. We've been hitting that thing all week. We actually had in the plan against Texas. It was a carry-over play from that plan.

"Incredible play by the quarterback and MJ. Great release at the line. He kind of got contacted a little bit and played through the contact and really ran out of the break. One (Lewis) dropped it right in the bucket there and MJ ran right through it."

Jefferson finished with three receptions for 84 yards and a score, while Stephens had three catches for 48 yards and a touchdown.

Elusive quarterback

It was a good-news, bad-news scenario for the Cajuns’ defense against athletic Nicholls quarterback Lindsey Scott.

On one hand, Scott’s scrambling ability certainly extended drives, like first-down runs of 11 and 8 yards in the first half.

But all of that running also produced sacks — three in the first half to help end a few of the Colonels’ drives as well.

A combined sack from Dalvin Hutchinson and Chauncey Manac forced the Colonels’ first punt. Zi’Yon Hill and Mason Narcisse also added sacks in the first half.

UL's defense also counterpunched with the interception returned for a score that proved to the difference in the game, but Scott still gave the Cajuns nightmares.

"I was very impressed with Lindsey Scott and that group of skill players they have," Napier said. "When you start talking about covering those guys and defending this guy's legs, you're talking about a long day at the office."

Aggressive on fourth

Napier went for it on fourth down twice on his side of the field at Texas and it worked. Then it worked again in the first half Saturday against Nicholls.

But late in the third quarter, the Colonels stuffed the Cajuns to turn it over on downs at the UL 31 with Nicholls trailing only 17-10 at the time.

"We made the wrong combination call up front," Napier said. "The defensive end slanted inside the tackle and tackled us for a loss there. Just simple communication and being in the right combination call on a zone play.

"We ran that same play earlier in the game, blocked it the right way and got 2 or 3 yards and made a first down. We'll continue to be aggressive on fourth down. Hopefully, our players will see that we need to execute that play better."


Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.